The classic image of rape is an unknown man attacking a girl or a woman in the darkness of night. However, so-called stranger rape makes up only a small percentage of all rapes (even though there are a lot of these types of rapes too). Most rapes happen indoors and are often committed by a person the victim knows or at least recognises. The perpetrator is often a friend or partner. Since most rapes differ from the classic image, it may be hard for the victim to define what they experienced. If a person you know or even loves does it, it may be hard to see the person as a rapist. Rape is about power, and the perpetrator often takes advantage of the victim’s weaker state. The victim may be under the influence of alcohol, be suffering from mental issues, or be uncertain or young. The perpetrator may take advantage of someone who is asleep or has some form of disability that makes it hard for the person to defend themselves or set boundaries. It could also be that one person has more power in a relationship and the other partner does not feel like they can say no. In other words, rape is a method that the perpetrator uses to have power over another person. In many cases, there is such an imbalance of power between victim and perpetrator that the rape does not have to include physical violence.
It is not just the situation surrounding the rape and the perpetrator that is stereotyped, but also the act itself. Rape is usually associated with sexual intercourse involving a penis penetrating a vagina or anus. In all actuality, a rape or assault can be made up of other sexual acts, or consensual sex can turn into rape or assault. Wanting to have sex with someone does not mean that the person is willing to have any type of sex, in any way, at any time.
Both women and men can be raped, and both women and men can be rapists. However, research and studies have shown that significantly higher numbers of girls and women have experienced rape and other forms of sexual violence. The perpetrators are almost exclusively men. Rape and other sexual violence also occurs in same-sex relationships, and women also subject their female partners to sexual violence. Not much research has been conducted on sexual violence in same-sex relationships, and the knowledge of violence in same-sex relationships is therefore insufficient. One study of this type of sexual violence was conducted in Sweden by Carin Holmberg. It is called Våldsamt lika och olika – Om våld i samkönade relationer [Fiercely the same yet different – About violence in same-sex relationships].
There is no normal or right reaction after being raped. Being raped may be a normalised part of a relationship or something unexpected and shocking. The victim may suffer from symptoms that are numerous and severe, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, fear, poor self-esteem, and feelings of shame and guilt. The victim may also act like everything is normal – going to school or work, meeting up with friends, and going for a workout.
Being the victim of rape or other sexual assault is an experience that many girls and women share. According to the study Våld och hälsa – En befolkningsundersökning om kvinnors och mäns våldsutsatthet samt kopplingen till hälsa [Violence and health – A population study of women’s and men’s exposure to violence and the link to health], one out of five women in Sweden has been the victim of serious sexual violence at some point in their life. The study defined serious violence as follows: “That as a child a person was forced to have sexual intercourse (including attempts) at some time and/or was the victim of other sexual assault repeatedly and/or was sometimes/often struck with a fist, injured with a weapon or the like, and/or was often the victim of other physical violence, and/or was often threatened with physical violence and/or was often called names, bullied, etc., and/or had repeatedly seen or heard violence between their parents. That as an adult a person has been forced to have intercourse or the like (including attempts) and/or was struck with a fist/object/kicked or was the victim of violence with a weapon, and/or was systematically and repeatedly subjected to psychological violence.
Most rapes go unreported. Few reports lead to prosecution and even fewer lead to conviction. But, rape and other sexual assaults are crimes, and reporting them is not totally in vain since the reports help to bring sexual violence into the public eye.